Burning Man & The Environment Don't Exactly Go Well Together

Every year, tens of thousands of people convene in the middle of the Nevada desert to prove their self-reliance — while dressing up in elaborate costumes and partying like it's the end of the world. But this year, Burning Man attendees reached the gates at Black Rock Desert only to find them shut, and authorities told them to turn back. Twist! Basically, the opening day of Burning Man 2014 was delayed due to unusual heavy rains. But maybe shortening the weeklong festival by a day or two wouldn't be such a bad thing, since the festival can have serious effects on the environment.

Surprise storms drenched northern Nevada starting late Sunday night, turning Burning Man's designated spot, Black Rock Desert, into a muddy quagmire. The usually arid area is known for its playa, a flat expanse of land that is easy to traverse when dry and impossible to move across when wet.

"With rain attached to [playa dust], people get stuck everywhere," Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Dan Lopez told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

As a result, law enforcement turned thousands of cars, camper vans, and mutant vehicles around on Monday. It's unclear how many gallons of body paint were wasted or how many buzzes were killed due to the delay. The official Burning Man Twitter announced the delay on Monday morning, urging people to stay put until further notice.

Since its inaugural event in 1986, Burning Man has blown up to such sweeping proportions that soon it could become — egad! — mainstream.

Jokes aside, thanks to the large throngs of people who attend each year — an attendance rate that continues to grow — Burning Man is harming the environment. Despite its "leave no trace" principle, the festival has indeed left quite a big one in the form of greenhouse gases.

According to LA Weekly, the 2006 festival created 27,492 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. A large portion of that stemmed from car and air travel to and from the festival, while burning the giant wooden man was responsible for 112 tons. And just judging by the increase in attendance in the last eight years — from just shy of 40,000 in 2006 to nearly 70,000 last year — it's safe to assume that the carbon footprint left by Burning Man is only going to grow.

LA Weekly did the math and calculated that this year's attendees will produce an estimated 45,493 tons of greenhouse gases. That makes the average Burner's weekly total 0.67 tons, which is double the national average of 0.33 tons per week.

Perhaps the most radical expression Burners can make is...putting down the glow sticks and skipping the event.

But for an event that has reached cultlike status, that isn't likely. The Burning Man festival has become a staple of American counterculture and an annual pilgrimage for people who love the weeklong break from, well, everything. The festival was built on 10 founding principles: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. Burning Man is named for its climactic event that occurs on Saturday night each year, when "Burners" set fire to a giant wooden man.

Images: Toby Keller/Flickr, Ryan Vettese/Flickr, Julia Wolf/Flickr, Robert Scales/Flickr